Coronavirus Guidance for Property

Churches are able to re-open, under specific guidance, from 4 July. The Methodist Church’s Property team have been working hard throughout the lockdown to produce relevant guidance for Managing Trustees and Ministers based on the Government’s own guidelines.  You can listen to this interview with the Director of Property Support, Stephen Hetherington in which he explains more about his team’s work.

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Updated on 6 July 2020 in light of current Government Guidelines

The decision to re-open a church needs serious consideration and a thorough understanding of what is required in terms of planning and health and safety requirements. There is no compulsion to re-open if Managing Trustees do not feel it can be done safely, or it is too soon.  As our guidance states: 

  • It needs to be well planned, both before the opening and kept under review once the building is in use.
  • Do not assume that you can immediately do things ‘as you used to do’ and accept that saying ‘no’, ‘not yet’ or ‘not like this’ can be positive decisions.

Please refer to the Opening of Churches for Worship v3 guidance for further information as well as the government guidance on Safe Use of Places of Worship

Guidance must be read in the context of where you live as devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales may have different guidelines.  If a local lockdown has been introduced, then those guidelines must be followed.  Please refer to www.gov.uk/coronavirus for updated information.   

First Steps

For any activity in a church building, there are 2 assessments to take which underpin any activity. 

  1. If a church building has been closed, please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (Word) v2 or (pdf version)

  2. A Covid-19 Risk Assessment v6  (Word) or (pdf version) with an Action Plan.  This assessment will help trustees to think through what needs to be put in place in terms of social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning regimes.  The government now states that a risk assessment on Covid-19 is mandatory to comply with H&S regulations.   

Further guidance can be found on:

If you have a specific question, please contactyour District Property Secretary or Property Support

Principles for the Opening of Churches

We wish to highlight two key principles to any planning work being undertaken locally:

  1. “The overriding priority remains to save lives”

This is a quote in the forward to HM Government’s Covid-19 strategic planning document ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ (12th May 2020) – this must be at the heart of any planned use of church property.

  1. Communicate and Co-operate

The implementation of any local strategy will be based upon good communication between all parties and working together in partnership.  This second principle will support the best outcomes for the first principle.

Cleaning (6 July)

Ensuring that the correct cleaning regimes are established and maintained is imperative to stop the further spread of the virus.  In the Cleaning Churches during Covid-19 v3, there is guidance provided on adapting cleaning regimes for church buildings.

The term ‘deep clean’ refers to a more thorough cleaning than what happens throughout the day.  If there are multiple people entering the building, then high contact areas such as door handles, light switches, bannisters, etc. should regularly be wiped down.  Regular cleaning and good hygiene are essential to reducing the risk of transmission as the virus can live on surfaces for up to 72 hours.  The virus is transmitted via droplets projected when speaking and therefore, cleaning is not required in unused areas.  For further information about how the virus is spread, click here.  

CPO are currently offered a 15% discount on PPE.  For more information, click here.  

For further guidance on cleaning obligations for leases/licenses, click here.  

Read more information about cleaning from the government on Safe Use of Places of Worship during the Pandemic and HSE's Cleaning your Workplace to Reduce the Risk of Covid-19

If there is an outdoor playground, the government has given this guidance

If there is a suspected case of Covid-19, there are special cleaning measures to take.  

If the building is listed, please refer to Historic England's How to Clean Historic Surfaces.  If historic items, such as stained glass, need to be cleaned, please contact the Conservation Officer for guidance. 

 *Updated 6 July 2020 (added Cleaning Churches during Covid-19 v3 which includes a link for TMCP guidance on obligations)

Opening for Worship and Prayer (9 July)

The Government announced that Places of Worship can open from 4th July with certain restrictions.  The Opening of Churches for Worship v3 guidance offers practical considerations for a churches.  However, please refer to the government guidance on the Safe Use of Places of Worship for further information. 

TMCP has produced guidance and a template for How to Support Test and Trace. 

This guidance must be read in the context of where you live as devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales may have different guidelines.   If a local lockdown has been introduced, then those guidelines must be followed.  Please refer to www.gov.uk/coronavirus for updated information.   

Live Streaming
The Methodist Church offers guidance on live streaming or recording services to allow ministers or leaders to do this in Methodist property.  Read the live streaming from church guidelines.  

*Updated 9 July 2020 (link for Test and Trace added)

Any Other Property Users (30 June)

Under its roadmap to lift restrictions, the government has outlined that certain user groups or businesses can re-open.  A number of these may have an impact on Methodist Church property and are dealt with in the specific guidance listed below:

We are still awaiting guidance from the government on Community Centres.  The guidance currently states, 'Meetings or small gatherings, as now permitted in other multi-use settings. (To be published shortly.)'   However, the government has specified that the activities that cannot open are:    

  • Indoor play areas including soft-play
  • Indoor fitness and dance studios, and indoor gyms and sports venues/facilities
  • Bowling alleys and Indoor skating rinks
  • Beauty salons, massage and tanning salons
  • Exhibition or conference centres must remain closed for events such as exhibitions or conferences, other than for those who work for the business or organisation who run the venue.

This guidance must be read in the context of where you live as devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales may have different guidelines.   If a local lockdown has been introduced, then those guidelines must be followed.  Please refer to www.gov.uk/coronavirus for further information.   

Playgroups 

If the playgroup is registered with OfSTED or a Childminder Agency under the Childcare Act 2006, then it is allowed to open.  More information on the definition and differentiation on this can be found at here.

Leases and Licences

If you have questions about leases or a license, please refer to TMCP's FAQ's Regarding Leases during Covid-19.  If you have a specific query, then you may need to contact TMCP

*Updated on 30 June 2020 (added link to Cafes, reference to local lockdown and list of what cannot open)

Property Projects & Repairs (26 June)

 Government policy is encouraging the construction industry to restart activities, on that basis, it is now acceptable for churches to consider undertaking maintenance, repairs and building projects. This must only occur if the works can meet the strict guidance for social distancing and the safety of workers and church members. 

Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 as it  covers a different of areas of construction, together with other factors that trustees need to consider in discussion with their professional advisors and contractors.

This guidance must be read in the context of where you live as devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales may have different guidelines.   If a local lockdown has been introduced, then those guidelines must be followed.  Please refer to www.gov.uk/coronavirus for further information.   

Buying and Selling

Please refer to TMCP's guidance on Covid 19 and Residential Conveyancing Transactions

If your query is not covered in the guidance, please contact with TMCP regarding specifics.  

Quinquennial Inspections and Gas Safety Checks

Please refer to the new Connexional guidance for Quinquennial Inspections for further information.

Gas Safe has published specific guidance during the outbreak, which you can find here

If churches or Circuits wish to understand more about what professional firms are undertaking during this time they should contact one of the Surveyors’ Panel or alternatively their local contacts.

Vandalism

The following actions are suggested:

  • Notify the local police to report the crime 

  • Notify your property insurer of a potential claim, for example Methodist Insurance and Ecclesiastical

*Updated on 26 June 2020

Legionella (7 July)

Legionella can occur when water is stagnate for long periods of time. The bacteria can form where droplets of water remain stagnant. During this unprecedented closure of our church buildings, the risks of this happening are increased.  As some churches are now planning for reopening, it is important that this risk is taken very seriously as part of the overall ‘Reopening Buildings Checklist’.

If the water system has not been flushed weekly as described below, then a test is essential before re-opening the building. Even if accepted practice has been followed as outlined below, within church buildings of varying ages and conditions, there may still remain some risk, and therefore it is very strongly advised that a test is carried out before reopening. This should be considered as part of any checks and risk assessments and is a decision for the Managing Trustees.

Further guidance about Legionella and Landlord’s Responsibility can be found on HSE’s website.  

Tests

If the managing trustees choose to have a test, the simplest test would be to gather 2 samples - one where the water enters the building and one where it exits.  Please note that it is advisable to discuss if this is sufficient with the local service provider as each water system is different. Legionella Control have set out of code of conduct which would help in finding a suitable service provider.

Tests can take up to ten days to be analysed and during this time water outlets producing mist shouldn’t be used. If the test is positive for either bacteria, then a chemical flush can be arranged.  

Checklist for Weekly Flush

Here is a checklist for a weekly flush to prevent legionella:  

  1. All water systems should be flushed on a weekly basis. 

  2. All hot water storage systems should be switched off (but not drained) and flushed to prevent the storage of hot / warm water.

  3. All taps (hot and cold) should be run at half pressure for 5 minutes each at every flushing.

  4. All outside taps should be run at half pressure for 5 minutes each at every flushing.

  5. All toilets should be flushed twice at every flushing.

  6. All showers should be run for 5 minutes each at every flushing (ideally run these into a bucket to prevent mist and droplets being breathed in by the tester).

  7. All hot water boilers should be run and flushed through at every flushing.

  8. All dishwashers should be run and flushed through at every flushing.

  9. Any other water appliance should be flushed (i.e. washing machines).

  10. If a church has air conditioning and condensers then they should take separate advice from their maintenance contractor.

  11. All inspections and flushing operations should be recorded on a register.   

Safety precautions

If a building has remained empty for a period of time,  then there is a risk that the systems are infected. Therefore when flushing the systems, ensure that spray and water particles aren’t breathed in (wear a mask or stand well clear of the running water and run showers heads into buckets or containers).

*Updated 7 July 2020

Covid-19 Funding (30 June)

Grants Online is the UK's most comprehensive and up to date UK grant funding information service. Updated on a daily basis, Grants Online informs you of grant funding opportunities from the European Union, UK Government Agencies, the Lottery as well as Grant Making Trusts & Foundations.  A number of organisations have launched funding schemes to mitigate the effects and impact of the Coronavirus locally.  We expect that the number of such grant schemes will increase over the next few weeks. Information on these schemes can be found here

Fundraising Support during Covid-19 & Beyond
During this uncertain time, Ecclesiastical want to provide you with the help and advice that you need to continue to protect your church and its community. These resources are designed to be helpful both now and into the future as our communities come back together.  Topics include:

Funding for Volunteer, Community & Social Enterprise (VCSE)
The government has pledged £750 million to ensure VCSE can continue their vital work supporting the country during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including £200 million for the Coronavirus Community Support Fund.  Activities such as community support, food support and homelessness are eligible.  Click here to find out more.  

Civil Society
The Civil Society has collated a list of grant funding for charities during the outbreak.  Click here to view the details.  

Heritage Alliance (of which the Methodist Church is a member) has produced COVID-19 Guidance for the Heritage Sector. This includes a Covid 19 Guidance Hub and Covid-19 Funding Hub which outlines the advice and sources of national and regional funding to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Arts Council has announced the availability of grants up to the value of £35k to help with urgent operational costs following loss of income, including:

  • rent or other building costs
  • staff costs
  • overheads such as utilities, insurance etc.
  • costs associated with keeping your organisation operational over the next six months

You must have experience of delivering work that was funded (directly or indirectly) by bodies such as Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Lottery Community Fund, local authorities, universities, public sector bodies, trusts and foundations, libraries, etc. Your organisation needs to have been part of the delivery of publicly funded work, even if they didn’t directly apply for the funding themselves. Application can be made via online application forms. Further guidance can be found here.

The NLCF has been chosen to administer a large part of the money the government has made available to frontline charities. This is not likely to be relevant to most churches. However, churches are eligible for the Community Fund’s general funds. Although there is no dedicated emergency fund, all the funding decisions made for the next six months will be devoted to addressing the current crisis.

To reach those groups best placed to support their communities at this vital time they will prioritise faster payments for existing grant holders and applicants using the following criteria: 

  • activities specifically geared to supporting communities through this crisis
  • helping organisations overcome any liquidity issues caused by COVID19.

Projects must address one or more of the three strategic priorities:

  1. bringing people together and build strong relationships in and across communities
  2. improving the places and spaces that matter to communities
  3. helping more people to reach their potential, by supporting them at the earliest possible stage.

To find out about the open programmes click here

*Updated 30 June 2020

Looking After Empty Church Buildings

 If a building continues to remain empty, then there are a few simple steps to take to ensure ongoing security, safety and condition of the property.  These include:

  1. Weekly Inspection - An individual from  property team (or individuals on a rota basis) to visit once a week to make an internal and external inspection.  
  2. Communication - Ensure that communication is maintained between parties and that local Circuit and District policies are adhered to during this time.  As well, be aware of lone working practices and government guidance on social distancing. 

  3. Security - Ensure that all perimeter fences/railings/gates, security lighting and other deterrents to thieves (particularly lead theft) are maintained or repaired.   Ensure that all CCTV is working and notices are in place.  Smaller rural churches might check if local neighbours, neighbourhood watch or wider CCTV coverage can be asked to also monitor the property (where practical).

  4. Outside the building - Check the gutters, flashings, downpipes and gullies are not blocked/damaged from ground level and where practical.  Check for any break-ins or vandalism.  
  5. Church grounds - If the grass is mowed using the church's equipment, it should be sanitised after use.   

    Caring for God's Acre has some advice on allowing natural wild flowers and how to minimising the amount of mowing that is needed.

  6. Inside the building - check for any leaks to the mains water supply, other pipes running through out the building and the heating radiators/pipes.  As well, it is advisable to run the hot and cold taps for 5 minutes in order to prevent legionella.  If a manse is empty, it is recommended to remove shower heads as well. 

  7. Heating - As summer draws to a close, it might be beneficial to ensure that some heating is retained in the building to avoid any issues with pipes bursting if there is a cold snap.
  8. Weekly Checks - If the fire alarm or fire detection system is normally checked weekly, then test it.  If there is a mechanical organ, it would beneficial to play for 15 minutes to keep the moving parts clean and from sticking (see below for detailed steps).  
  9. Post - Collect the post if not redirection or suspended. 
  10. Leaving - When leaving the church, ensure that all doors, windows and other points of access are secured.

If you have any concerns, please liaise with your District Property Secretary or Circuit Property Steward.   

Organs

For a church with a larger or mechanically complex organ, prolonged lack of use will result in long-term problems with its performance.  If an organist is available in the neighbourhood, then they can practise to keep all the action parts moving.  If an organist is not available, then the person performing the weekly inspection could carrying out the following steps:

  1. Switch the organ on (consult with your regular organist, as every instrument is different)
  2. Pull out all the stops (or press them down, if the instrument has stop tabs)
  3. One at a time, press every key (black and white) on each keyboard of the instrument, and all of the pedals. Note that the organ operates differently from a piano; keys should be pressed rather than struck.
  4. If any faults occur, such as notes not sounding, or continuing to sound after the key has been released, make a note and consult with your organist or organ tuner.
  5. Cancel all stops by pushing them in (or up for stop tabs).
  6. Switch off the organ.

The purpose of this is to run through all the stops on all keyboards, and the pedalboard to keep leatherwork from sticking and keep electrical contacts clean. 

Vandalism

The following actions are suggested:

  • Notify the local police to report the crime 

  • Notify your property insurer of a potential claim, for example Methodist Insurance and Ecclesiastical

Bats

If your church is known to have bats, then hopefully surfaces will have been covered.  Ideally a church building with bats that affect worship areas will not be open to anyone until it has had a thorough clean, which will have to wait until multiple people are able to safely enter, and appropriate PPE has been sourced.

Any works carried out will be subject to the usual legislation relating to bat conservation and if the trustees are concerned about its bat population then do call the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228

*Updated 26 June 2020

 

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